Cosmos revisited poorly

I just can’t keep my mouth shut when such blatant distortions of the facts and the ‘truth’ are being spoon-fed to public with such a high degree of bias and nobody is willing to point it out. So let it be me.

The fifth episode of the dredged up Cosmos rehash is described on the program’s website as an opportunity to “Discover the meanings of light and enlightenment.” It had some wonderful animations illustrating how electrons are bumped into higher energy levels when they absorb light, and how they then emit light when they drop to a lower energy level. A big improvement over Carl Sagan’s series, but one would expect that since technology has changed since the original series in 1980. The show included lucid explanations of how each element has a unique absorption and emission spectrum of light, which amazingly allows us to detect the presence (or absence) of specific elements in stars that are light years away simply by studying the spectrum of light the stars emit. There were also keen comparisons of different types of electromagnetic radiation to the “octaves” of sound in music — an effective audiovisual method of explaining the EM spectrum. I know science teachers who would love to use this sort of material in their classes — if it wasn’t consistently revising historyand promoting inaccuracies to advocate a demonstrably false materialistic narrative of science. (emphasis added)

Early in the episode, host Neil deGrasse Tyson discusses the ancient Chinese philosopher Mozi. After several in depth discussions with my younger brother about his philosophical and moral beliefs, I have had to go back and reread many of the books and articles I hadn’t studied in over 35 years. So it just struck me as being a little off when Tyson described Mozi ideas as including “early stirrings of the scientific approach,” as well as innovative political theories encouraging peace, love, and egalitarian values. No mention was made, as would be expected, that Mozi’s followers were later persecuted by a government that wanted power.

I thought I heard Tyson say Mozi wrote a book titled Against Faith, in a manner thatTyson intended to suggest that Mozi was some early anti-religious visionary. After the show was over I looked it up and found the actual title was Against Fate — or according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which describes it as an essay rather than a book, “Rejecting Fatalism.”

You can argue either way as to what he actually said and go crazy listening to it over and over again. So the next step in the scientific procedure should be invoked and that would be the context. Certainly, the context has nothing to do with fate or fatalism. You can listen to the clip here and decide for yourself. Perhaps Tyson did intend to say “Against Fate” — though the context argues against it. I wonder if it was a Freudian slip. Given how often the series bashes faith, I suspect most other viewers heard the same, especially given how much faith-bashing we’ve seen in the series thus far.

If Tyson was seeking an anti-religious visionary to spark science in ancient China, then Mozi is the wrong guy. One statement by Tyson that is clear comes when he praises Mozi for promoting a philosophy “against blind obedience to ritual and authority,” attempting to cast Mozi as some kind of a secular innovator. Once again, Tyson left out a crucial, inconvenient fact: Mozi was a monotheist whom scholars have recognized promoted a “Christian”-like view of God. You might even call Mozi an apologist for a form of monotheistic religion in his day. As historian Klaus Schlichtmann puts it:

Mozi advocated a monotheistic religion, in which God reigned as King in Heaven, a universalism based on principles of equality and justice, as well as the concept of “unbound (i.e., undifferentiated) love” (jian’ai), which was also said to be of “mutual utility,” quite similar to the Christian idea in many ways.

The Chinese scholar and reformer Hu Shi (1891-1962) remarked in 1919 that Mozi was “probably the only Chinese who had founded a religion” and “possibly one of the greatest spirits China ever produced.” Hu Shi came to the conclusion that “though it is to Confucius that his countrymen paid lip service it is Meh Tse [Mozi] who has — unknown to them — really molded their thought. Mozi’s practical philosophy contains elements of what one might call political science as well as fundamentals of a political and individual ethic. Among the main goals of his political ethic is the elevation of the welfare of the people and the general cultivation of law and good administration. The utilitarianism of the Mozi school is everywhere emphasized in the literature as a main characteristic: “His aim is the mutual balancing of needs, based on equality … The principle, however, that supports people’s relations to each other is for Mozi not blood relationships and not ritual, but love.”

(Klaus Schlichtmann, Japan in the World: Shidehara Kijuro, Pacifism, and the Abolition of War, pp. 12-13 (Lexington Books, 2009) (internal citations removed).)

Far from being against faith, Mozi founded a monotheistic religion where a supreme and loving God reigned over the Earth from Heaven. No wonder he also promoted scientific methodologies — after all it was also a monotheistic culture — a Christian one — that gave birth to science in the West, where people believed in one God who reigned supreme over the universe and gave it intelligible, discoverable laws. Once again, we see that monotheistic religion is conducive to science and democratic values. Cosmos not only ignores this but seeks to give the impression that religion and science stand opposed to each other.

Do Scientists Have the Right of Free Expression to Question Neo-Darwinism?

One aspect of this episode that I really liked was Neil deGrasse Tyson’s strong statements about the importance of intellectual freedom for a healthy science. He says “science needs the light of free expression to flourish,” and notes that science “depends on the fearless questioning of authority,” and requires “the open exchange of ideas.” That’s exactly right — bravo Dr. Tyson!

Unfortunately, Tyson stops short of asking whether scientists today have the academic freedom to question certain authorities or freely express certain views. So let’s ask a question that Cosmos wouldn’t: Are scientists today free to express their views when they feel there are problems with authoritative paradigms, like modern evolutionary biology? Don’t ask me. Ask scientists and skeptics:

  • “There’s a feeling in biology that scientists should keep their dirty laundry hidden, because the religious right are always looking for any argument between evolutionists as support for their creationist theories. There’s a strong school of thought that one should never question Darwin in public.” (W. Daniel Hillis, in “Introduction: The Emerging Third Culture,” in Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution, edited by John Brockman (Touchstone, 1995), p. 26.)
  • “It is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection … My skepticism is not based on religious belief or on a belief in any definite alternative. It is just a belief that the available scientific evidence, in spite of the consensus of scientific opinion, does not in this matter rationally require us to subordinate the incredulity of common sense. This is especially true with regard to the origin of life … I realize that such doubts will strike many people as outrageous, but that is because almost everyone in our secular culture has been browbeaten into regarding the reductive research program as sacrosanct, on the ground that anything else would not be science. … In thinking about these questions I have been stimulated by criticisms of the prevailing scientific world picture… by the defenders of intelligent design. … [T]he problems that these iconoclasts pose for the orthodox scientific consensus should be taken seriously. They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. It is manifestly unfair.” (Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, p. (Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 6-7, 10.)
  • “We’ve been told by more than one of our colleagues that, even if Darwin was substantially wrong to claim that natural selection is the mechanism of evolution, nonetheless we shouldn’t say so. Not, anyhow, in public. To do that is, however inadvertently, to align oneself with the Forces of Darkness, whose goal is to bring Science into disrepute. … [N]eo-Darwinism is taken as axiomatic; it goes literally unquestioned. A view that looks to contradict it, either directly or by implication is ipso facto rejected, however plausible it may otherwise seem. Entire departments, journals and research centres now work on this principle.” (Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, What Darwin Got Wrong (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), pp. xx, xvi.)

And since we’ve been on the topic of China, here’s one final comment to think about, from the Chinese paleontologist J.Y. Chen: “In China we can criticize Darwin, but not the government. In America, you can criticize the government, but not Darwin.”

These are not proponents of intelligent design. They are atheists and/or mainstream evolutionary scientists/scholars, telling us that scientists don’t have the full freedom to express views that dissent from Darwinian doctrine.

Somehow I suspect that Cosmos will continue to sing the praises of the scientific enterprise, and will even promote the idea that evolutionary science is the pinnacle of an intellectually liberated, highly objective, and extremely careful and self-correcting scientific enterprise. But what would Neil deGrasse Tyson know about questioning Darwinism? Ask scientists and scholars who have tried to question Darwin, and you’ll find out just how much academic freedom there really is. I have already had several postings on my blog www.intelligentdesign.blog.com describing the bias in publishing and restraints of freedom of speech in the academic world.


In my earlier review of Cosmos, I mentioned that the new series’s recent premier spent an unusual amount of time (for a science show) promoting the old “warfare” model of science and religion, and the myth that religion has hindered the advancement of science. Jay Richards has an excellent piece critiquing Cosmos’s revisionist history of Giordano Bruno, the scientist cultist philosopher who was persecuted by the Catholic Church for his heliocentric scientific viewpoint philosophy that (among other things) worshipped Egyptian deities. But Dr. Richards is not the only critic. In fact, a number of mainstream, decidedly not-pro-ID sources are making similar criticisms. The television website Zap2it.com criticizes Neil deGrasse Tyson for his “questionable history” of Bruno:One of the goals of “Cosmos” is to introduce the world to “heroes of science.” This would be the premiere episode’s one and only massive failure. That’s because someone at “Cosmos” decided to trot out the case of a 16th-century Italian philosopher named Giordano Bruno as its first hero. Unfortunately for “Cosmos,” Bruno wasn’t terribly heroic. And he wasn’t a scientist at all. A religious philosopher living in the tense years following the schism between Catholicism and the new faith of Protestantism, Bruno managed to irritate and complicate the beliefs of just about everyone by preaching a cosmology of an infinite universe in which the Sun is just a star, around which the Earth moves. Here’s the thing: Even “Cosmos” points out that Bruno had no scientific basis for his theories. “His vision of the cosmos was a lucky guess,” says Tyson. So why is the long-dead philosopher important enough to rate hero status? That would be because “Cosmos” takes his case as one of “martyrdom.” What “Cosmos” does not point out to its audiences is that the Catholic Church didn’t really care about Bruno’s views on the Earth moving around the Sun. His crimes — the ones for which he was executed — were theological. Several actual scientists in this period happily investigated the ideas of Copernicus’ theories without running into trouble. Even Galileo only got in trouble when he published books that directly mocked the Church’s adherence to the Earth being at the center. Why does this matter? So what if Giordano Bruno wasn’t a scientist and wasn’t executed for science? There are three big reasons why this does, in fact, matter and why it hurts “Cosmos” to get it wrong. 1. To borrow one of Tyson’s famous quotes, the good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it. The same goes for history. Getting the history of science wrong hurts science itself. Why believe the science if other parts of the show are inaccurate? 2. Making Bruno into a martyr for science basically makes 100 years of historical research useless. The idea of Giordano Bruno as a scientific hero only originated in the 19th century, when he was championed by several historians. Since then, most have classified him as a philosopher sharing dangerous ideas in a dangerous time. 3. It’s an unstated goal of “Cosmos” to champion science and scientific reasoning over superstition and religious dogmatism. But you’re not going to win over anyone by vilifying religion in the face of science. Add in Bruno flying into space in an overtly crucifixion stance almost seems like giving religion the finger. You don’t win arguments that way, “Cosmos.”Or there’s this scathing criticism, from staunch evolutionist Hank Campbell at Science 2.0:Then suddenly we get a claim that Giordano Bruno is responsible for the concept of the universe — because he read “banned” books. Lucretius wasn’t science — there was no scientific evidence for his claim that wind caused earthquakes or worms spontaneously generated — it was philosophy, and his book was not rare in 1600 AD, people were also not martyred for reading it, and yet we get told a philosophical belief in infinity was what got Bruno into trouble. It’s an immediate disconnect for people who know science history because it smacks of an agenda. I instead object because it is flat-out incorrect. To claim that Bruno promoted the concept of the universe, a “soaring vision”, despite persecution, while simultaneously being hired over and over by the institutions we are told were oppressing him, makes no sense. That segment of the show makes it sound like he was a devout Christian tormented by reason rather than what he was — a cultist who engaged in confirmation bias to pick and choose anything what matched his beliefs. Bruno’s “science” was never mentioned during his trial, he was on trial for being a cult worshiper. He only took up the cause of Copernicus because he believed in the Egyptian god Thoth and Hermetism and their belief that the Earth revolved around the Sun, not because he had perceived anything radical. Galileo rightly dismissed most of Bruno’s teachings as philosophical mumbo-jumbo. Bruno was only revived as a “scientist” and a martyr for science by anti-religious humanists in the 19th century. The church didn’t even bother to ban his writing until well after he was dead. Bruno was not a martyr for science, the way the cartoon in “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” alleges, he was a martyr for magic. He actually was a heretic. Sorry, but 400 years ago when you repeatedly lecture about what was regarded as a cult and insist Catholics and Protestants need to accept Hermetism as fact, you are getting into trouble. He also taught that demons caused diseases. No matter how little you may know about the 16th century, you know they were not teaching that demons cause diseases. Roman Catholics gave him 10 years to back off from his claim that his alternate religion was empirical fact they needed to accept. Hardly a sign of rushing to judgment or pop culture beliefs about religion of the time. He instead wanted to be a poster child for the Inquisition. He was clearly mentally ill. It sets an unfortunate tone that they slipped revisionist history in with science — it is the story of Bruno as if it were written by a blogger on some “free thought” site. Are humanists and atheists the key market for this program? That wasn’t the case for Sagan. And I know that isn’t the case for Tyson either. Walk up to Tyson and call him a Skeptic and he will quickly assure you he is not part of any organized skeptic movement. He goes where reason takes him and, like Sagan, he can probably defend the value of a liturgical society and then he will be critical when religion deserves to be criticized. Sagan succeeded because he communicated science without tearing other people down. Tyson does also but in the episode provided to me, the Bruno story came across as more of a program Richard Dawkins would have hosted than Carl Sagan. And that’s too bad, because Tyson is not divisive like that.Or, perhaps something we’re learning from this new Cosmos series is that Tyson is “like that” after all — i.e., he’s an atheist activist who is willing to rewrite history to suit his materialistic narrative, and intends to use Cosmos as a vehicle to promote the message. – See more at: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/03/cosmos_slammed_083111.html#sthash.HuzHnVme.dpuf


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